Excerpt of The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt
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Beitang City, Wuxi, China, 2010
On a cloudy day in early January, Benfu stood outside his house and held
the red pail under the spigot, waiting for it to fill. Today was a good day;
when he pumped the handle, the old pipes didn't moan and rattle too much
before deciding to cooperate. But he didn't mind it so much either waylike
him, the piece of iron was ancient but stubbornly kept going. And anyway,
they had a history together, and if a man could feel affection for a thing, then
Benfu absolutely did. A silly fondness, but there all the same, for it was the
very same temperamental water spigot that had been the matchmaker that
brought him and his precious Calli together so many years before.
When the water reached the top, he pushed the pump handle down and
carried the pail across the street to the old widow's house. Quickly he filled
the tins for her chickens and used the last of the water on her pot of herbs
hanging in her window box. He looked at the chicken droppings and considered
cleaning them up, but that was a task Widow Zu usually took on and he
didn't want to deprive her of that joy. And anyway, nothing was worse than
the smell of chicken dung on a man's hands.
Chuckling, he returned to his yard across the street, got on his bike, and
headed out for the day. Twenty minutes later, he pushed his rusted threewheeled
bicycle slowly up the steep hill and turned the corner. Around him
the streets were coming alive. Morning vendors were opening their stalls and
stacking displays of fruits and vegetables, sweepers cleaned the sidewalks, and
early commuters bustled to work. As he strained to push the bike, the cars,
electric scooters, and other bicycles rushed past him. Most paid him no attention,
for he was just one of many laborers out at the crack of dawn trying to
get an early start to the day. With his weathered brown face and deep wrinkles,
he blended in, but unlike some of the men his age he passed who were
doing their morning Qigong exercises or sitting at makeshift tables while
playing cards, Benfu still had a job to do. Even though he had lived on earth
for over six decades, he could not retire.
He struggled the last few feet, listening to his water canteen bumping
against the metal bar it was tied to and thought about how much the city had
changed over the years. At least his side of Beitang CityOld Town Wuxi as
some called itstill kept some of the old charm, while new Wuxi had grown
with businesses and even many foreigners coming in to make their mark.
Benfu was a transplanthe'd been sent to Wuxi as a teenager by his parents
to escape the danger of Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. It was for
his protection, they'd told him as they cried and bid him good-bye. What they
had thought would be a better life for him was an unforgettable time of
trauma and hardship. And though he'd never intended to stay for so long, fate
had intervened and Wuxi had become his home. But that was long ago and
he'd survived many more hard times since thentimes that were better left
unspoken of, times that made a day like today feel like child's play.
At the top of the hill, Benfu mounted the bike again and with shoulders
bent over the handlebars to add more weight, he pedaled slowly. He
was already tired and that irritated him. He'd always been known to be
bigger and stronger than most, but for the last year he just couldn't shake
the cough and heavy feeling that had enveloped him. Passing the line of
street breakfast stands, he winced at the sudden squeaking from the rusty
back wheel of his bicycle. As it began to bump and turn haphazardly, he
hoped it would last the day, at least until he could ask his daughter to take a
look to see if she could repair it. If she could, that would save him some valuable
coins that he could avoid paying the local repairman. He was lucky to
have the transportation, and the three-wheeled bike was fitted with a
makeshift cart on the back, allowing him a way to haul things home without
carrying them in a basket on his back as he'd done for years before.
Excerpted from The Scavenger's Daughters
by Kay Bratt. Copyright © 2013 by Kay Bratt.
Excerpted by permission of Amazon Publishing. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.